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May 31, 2011 > The Bay Area fights Cancer

The Bay Area fights Cancer

By Jessica Noel Waymire

Hazel Knowles lost her mother to breast cancer when she was 29. The devastating loss impressed upon her the importance of early detection. Nine and a half years ago, Knowles herself was diagnosed with breast cancer. Because she had been diligent in getting regular breast exams, the cancer was caught early and Knowles is now a cancer survivor.

This summer, the Bay Area joins the fight against cancer through a series of Relay For Life events. Relay For Life is a grassroots movement that began 26 years ago with the vision of one man. In 1986, Dr. Gordy Klatt, a colorectal surgeon from Washington, was inspired to run for 24 hours to raise money for his local American Cancer Society (ACS) branch. Through the donations of family and friends, he raised $27,000. His vision has become a worldwide event, proof that one person can make a difference.

A 24-hour event, community teams of 8 to 15 members camp out overnight at local parks or schools as at least one participant of each team continuously walks, runs or jogs around a track. Each team is asked to commit to raising at least $100. All proceeds go to the American Cancer Society to fund research for cancer treatment and maintain the tremendous support network ACS provides for cancer patients and their loved ones.

The purpose of the weekend event is to "celebrate, remember, and fight back." The Relay opens at 10 a.m. with a special celebration lap just for cancer survivors. At sunset, luminaries line the track and participants walk a lap in silence to remember those who have been lost to the disease. Laps are continued throughout the night to bring home the concept that cancer doesn't sleep.

Each team has its own tent at the track and comes up with creative ways to raise more funds at the event. In Union City, Jen Dudley and her team, "The Dudley Darlings" have invited a dermatologist to provide mole checks for a small donation. Hazel Knowles' team will feature the "Cancer Slammer," a jail where attendees can issue a "warrant" for anyone for a donation of $2. The prisoner then has to raise $5 to get out of jail within half an hour or take a walk of shame around the track. Knowles warns that she may arrest some participants if she finds that they are not wearing sunscreen!

Knowles joined Relay For Life the day after her 37-day radiation treatment ended. She has been involved, and cancer-free, ever since. Shortly after joining Relay, Knowles adopted two miniature-dachshund pups. They are turning nine this year, a tangible reminder of how long she has survived. She says that being involved in Relay For Life has, "filled me with the hope I was looking for. I was feeling like a victim. From that day forward, it gave me the hope of a survivor."

Dudley is the cheerleader and Relay Chair for the Union City Relay this year. She says that Relay is, "Union City's best kept secret." Dudley has been very proactive in spreading the word about Relay For Life, even posting a banner on her truck to attract more participants. She has made a great impact on Union City's Relay; their initial goal was to have at least 30 teams participating, and with just under three months left before the event, they already have 27 teams registered!

Michael Ritchie and his family have been part of the Union City Relay for six years. He likes to take the night shift and feels that, "it is such a small thing to do to emulate what cancer patients experience. It's a pretty amazing experience." Ritchie and his wife have brought their children to the Relay, one year dressing their son in a carrot costume to remind people that a healthy lifestyle is a preventative measure.

Relay For Life is a great event for many reasons: it celebrates those who have survived a cancer diagnosis, remembers those who have lost their lives to the disease, and raises funds for cancer research, treatment, and prevention. This is a local event as well as a global phenomenon. Hayward kicks off events in the Tri-Cities with their Relay Saturday, June 4, with other cities following throughout the summer. Anyone and any age can participate-by becoming a team member, making a donation, attending the event, or purchasing a luminaria in remembrance of those fallen to cancer.

Come and join this amazing event! Food and entertainment is provided. For more information on local events, please visit If you or someone you love is in need of cancer support, please contact the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 or visit

Relay For Life Hayward
Saturday, June 4 - Sunday, June 5
10 a.m. to 10 a.m.
Moreau Catholic High School
27170 Mission Blvd., Hayward

Relay For Life Milpitas
Saturday, June 18 - Sunday, June 19
10 a.m. to 10 a.m.
Milpitas Sports Center
1325 E. Calaveras Blvd., Milpitas

Relay For Life Fremont
Saturday, June 25 - Sunday, June 26
10 a.m. to 10 a.m.
California School of the Deaf
39350 Gallaudet Dr., Fremont

Relay For Life Newark
Saturday, July 9 - Sunday, July 10
10 a.m. to 10 a.m.
Newark Junior High School
6201 Lafayette Ave., Newark

Relay For Life Union City
Saturday, August 27 - Sunday, August 28
10 a.m. to 10 a.m.
James Logan High School
2801 Hop Ranch Rd., Union City

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